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Atari 2600: Video Life

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Video Life is an unusual video game. The object of playing Video Life is not to achieve a high score, but rather to create beautiful, changing patterns from simple beginnings. Detailed instructions, hints, and the game’s history are given later. Here is how you can get started with Video Life.

Make sure your Video Computer System is turned off and connected properly to your TV.
Connect both joysticks, insert the Video Life cartridge, set both difficulty switches down ("b" position), and turn on the game.
The game will write the word "Life" on the TV screen, erase the word, and then show a changing pattern of small dots.

This is a built-in demonstration of how the rules of Video Life allow a small starting pattern of dots to grow into complex patterns that fill the screen. After watching the demonstration, you will want to try your own patterns. Just follow these steps:

Depress and hold the GAME RESET SWITCH until a ragged line moves down the TV screen, erasing the small dots.
Move the single remaining bright dot around the screen with the LEFT JOYSTICK. If the fire button is depressed, the bright dot will leave a trail of dots behind it as it moves. Notice that it will also erase dots if they are already present.
Using the LEFT JOYSTICK, draw a picture on the TV screen. Even simple patterns like squares, diamonds, or long straight lines will produce interesting and surprising results.
Press the FIRE BUTTON on the RIGHT JOYSTICK and your picture will begin to grow into new patterns.

Some interesting patterns to try can be found later in this manual in the section called "Classical Patterns in Life". Before looking there, you can enjoy experimenting with simple patterns of your own. Observe how adding or removing a single dot from a starting pattern can make the difference between the dots rapidly dying out or expanding to fill the screen!

What Video Life does is to take your starting pattern of dots, examine the placement of dots in the pattern, and produce a new (and probably different) pattern. This new pattern is then used to make yet another new pattern. New patterns will continue to be made from old at a rate of about one per second.

Each time a new pattern has been made, we say that a new "generation" of dots is on the screen. The placement of dots in the new generation is found by looking at exactly where the dots are in the old generation, and applying some rules. The rules for going from one generation to the next are discussed in the section "The Rules of Video Life". Even without understanding the rules, it is fun to watch the changing patterns and listen to the musical tones.

You can stop the growth of the pattern at any time by moving the LEFT JOYSTICK in any direction. Once the growth has been stopped, the pattern can be changed and growth resumed. Changing the pattern is done by moving the bright dot (using the LEFT JOYSTICK) to those places on the screen where you wish to add new dots or to remove old dots. The old dot is removed or the new dot added by pressing the FIRE BUTTON on the LEFT JOYSTICK. After you have made your changes, the growth can be resumed by pressing the FIRE BUTTON on the RIGHT JOYSTICK.

If you wish to make a completely new pattern, press the GAME RESET SWITCH until a ragged line starts to move down the screen. This will clear the screen of all dots. You can then use the LEFT JOYSTICK to make a new pattern. Press the FIRE BUTTON on the RIGHT JOYSTICK to start the new pattern growing.

To speed up the growth, flip up (into the "a" position) the LEFT DIFFICULTY SWITCH. This also makes the TV picture flicker and changes the musical tones that are produced. The course of growth, and the final state of the pattern are, however, not changed.

If Video Life is left turned on, but not changing generations for more than ten minutes, the TV picture will begin to change colors rapidly. This flashing will stop as soon as you resume playing the game.



The LEFT JOYSTICK controls the position of the bright dot on the TV screen. Its FIRE BUTTON is used to add or remove a dot from the screen at the location of the bright dot. The easiest way to move the bright dot is to hold the joystick in your left hand with the FIRE BUTTON on the left side and toward the TV. The FIRE BUTTON is then easily pressed with your left thumb. This is the same way the joystick is normally held for other games. Notice that when the joystick is pushed, the bright dot moves one space and then hesitates before moving again. This hesitation will allow you to position the dot exactly where you want it by tapping the joystick. A dotted line can be drawn by tapping the FIRE BUTTON while the joystick is held in one direction.

Notice also that the bright dot moves smoothly off one edge of the dot display and reappears on the opposite edge. This is called "wrap around". The bottom edge of the dot display can be thought of as being connected to the top edge, and the left edge of the dot display can be thought of as being connected to the right edge. This means that a pattern that is growing close to an edge of the dot display may spill over to the opposite edge.


The RIGHT JOYSTICK can be used to stop the updating of successive pictures (generations). Moving the stick in any direction will stop updating the picture. Pressing the FIRE BUTTON will start it again. By holding the right stick in any direction and tapping the FIRE BUTTON once, a single generation of alterations to the picture can be produced.

(Description from the manual, which is posted at AtariAge via a CC license. This page only includes part of the manual for space reasons.)

This item is part of the collection: ARCHIVE.ORG Console Library: Atari 2600

Identifier: atari_2600_video_life_1981_commavid_john_bronstein_cm-002
Mediatype: software
Scanner: Internet Archive Python library 0.4.8
Publicdate: 2013-12-25 11:56:27
Addeddate: 2013-12-25 11:56:27
Emulator: a2600
Emulator_ext: bin
Controller: joystick

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